Photographing Urban Underground Arteries

Urban underground photographer Steve Duncan has spent years exploring and photographing urban underground arteries that include New York City’s subway and sewer tunnels, as well as the Paris and London underground.

Duncan is afraid of the dark.

photographer Steve Duncan
Steve Duncan

In a 2010 interview in Columbia Magazine, he said, “I figured if I could venture alone into this dark and terrifying tunnel, I could be proud of myself. There was the sense that if I didn’t push through with it, I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the eye.”

What a great metaphor for writing. Afraid of the dark. Moving into the underground. Pushing through. And looking yourself in the eye when done.

 

 

 

“A novelist is someone who takes you on a journey.”

journey into space and timeI saw this quote from iAuthor on Twitter today. “A novelist is someone who takes you on a journey. Through space. Through time” — Susan Sontag ()

It reminds me of an earlier post of mine inspired by the famed Ray Bradbury at a book signing I attended in 2009. Someone had asked him what he thought the future held for our young generation. “He raised himself up in his wheelchair, his eyes sparkling, and almost cried out, ‘We should go back to the moon! Go on to Mars, with the moon as a base camp. Then go on to Alpha Centauri.’”

A journey through space and time, whether literally or in a novelist’s words. That’s what creating story is all about.

 

Jimmy Breslin: “Go directly to the loser’s locker”

Renowned newspaper writer Jimmy Breslin died today. In The New York Times Dan Barry wrote: “He often explained that he merely

Mr. Breslin with Timothy J. Dowd, right, the police investigator who led the manhunt for the serial killer known as Son of Sam, at a news conference in August 1977 announcing the killer’s capture. Credit Paul Hosefros/The New York Times
Mr. Breslin with Timothy J. Dowd, right, the police investigator who led the manhunt for the serial killer known as Son of Sam, at a news conference in August 1977 announcing the killer’s capture. Credit Paul Hosefros/The New York Times

applied a sportswriter’s visual sensibility to the news columns. Avoid the scrum of journalists gathered around the winner, he would advise, and go directly to the loser’s locker.” This is how Breslin found some of his most-remembered stories.

Great advice for a writer in any genre. Writing fiction? Head for the loser’s locker room. Find the character that everyone else is ignoring. The character in the background. The poor, the disenfranchised. The gravedigger who dug the grave for the person every knew and loved. Find that one, and go from there.

You find that character by observing. Looking behind the crowd. And that character leads you to your story.

 

Web series: a more intimate experience

A throwback thought from an interview I did four years ago with Mildred Lewis, writer, producer, Assistant Professor at Chapman University:

One of the core truths of writing a web series: it ain’t television or movies.

web series writer Mildred Lewis
Mildred Lewis

Sure, they have common elements. As Mildred Lewis, co-creator of the web series Etiquette, says, “Good writing is good writing is good writing. Plot, character, setting, conflict, compelling ideas, engaging emotions all remain crucial.”

That being said, the audience experiences a web series differently. “On the web,” Lewis continues, “you’re writing for a viewer who is going to have a more intimate experience. Most people watch web content alone, often on small devices. Funny has to be funnier! You can’t ride a laugh track or laughter in the room.”

Write your story well, keep it short, and create exciting characters. And to quote Mildred Lewis again: “Every beat has to be earned.”

Writing Advice from the Best

A bit of irony: some of the writing advice books I find most helpful come from authors whose books I don’t read or am not a fan of. Here are a few books I consider to be writing advice from the best:

Stephen King

Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. I have enjoyed reading a handful of King’s novels, but I don’t go out of my way to read him. His book on writing is spot-on. Excellent advice.

Rita Mae Brown

Rita Mae Brown’s Starting from Scratch: A Different Kind of Writers Manual. I particularly like her advice on sharpening your ear for dialogue. I don’t recall ever reading any of her novels.

Natalie Goldberg

Natalie Goldberg’s numerous writing advice books. I prefer Thunder and Lightning: Cracking Open the Writer’s Craft. In my mind there is no better book on writing. She provokes the writer to dig deeply, to write till it hurts. But I have not read any of her fiction.

Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury, advice from the best
Ray Bradbury

And Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing: Releasing the Creative Genius Within You. I’ve read some of his fiction, and enjoyed it, but I am not a huge fan. Such great writing advice, though. I was lucky to have attended a book signing of his in 2009. I wrote about it in an older post. A favorite quote: “In quickness is truth. The faster you blurt, the more swiftly you write. The more honest you are. In hesitation is thought. In delay comes the effort for a style, instead of leaping upon truth which is the ONLY style worth tiger-trapping.”